CSNNE’s Mike Giardi is doing a great series where he’s asking scouts, executives, and former players various questions about the New England Patriots and his latest topic is “who is the most underrated member of the Patriots?”
One scout says FS Duron Harmon, another says DT Alan Branch, and a third says LT Nate Solder. A former Patriots player says RB James White, noting that when he was with the team, “we all thought he sucked,” but that White turned it around in a major way.
A NFL exec gave the most interesting response, in my opinion, about third-year RG Shaq Mason.
"I’m not sure you’ll find too many guards in this league that are as athletic as Shaq Mason,” the exec told Giardi. “I thought he had a Pro Bowl-type season last year. I can only imagine what he’ll look like this year, with another season in the league and under [offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and coach Bill Belichick]. He’ll always have some limitations as a pass blocker because of his height and arm length, but with better technique he can mask some of that.
“I think he’s as good a run blocker as there is at that position and I expect he’ll be a big part of that offensive line for a long time. [Logan] Mankins was the gold standard for Bill, but when all is said and done, it could be this kid."
Shaq Mason could end up being the gold standard for the guard position under head coach Bill Belichick? Ahead of Logan Mankins?
For my money, Mankins is the second-best Patriots during Belichick’s tenure, behind Tom Brady (obviously), so this is extremely lofty praise. I really liked Mason’s progression as a sophomore and I think he has a chance to be a dominant lineman for a long time, but to be better than Mankins?
Mason is great in space and he’s a bulldog in the run game. He’s super athletic. But he’s shown vulnerabilities in the passing game and at 6’1, 310 pounds he might not have the necessary length to stop some of the rangier defensive tackles on a consistent basis.
Of course, Pro Football Focus ranked Mason as the best right guard in the NFL over the second half of the season after the Patriots bye week, so this exec isn’t alone in their evaluation of Mason’s potential and current ability.
If Mason can play the entire 2017 season at the same level that he closed out the 2016 season, then I’ll be thrilled to reevaluate, but to put Mason in the same category as Mankins seems a little early. I think he can be a great guard, but this is like christening Marcus Mariota as the next Tom Brady after just two seasons.
I think Mason can put together a Pro Bowl-level campaign in 2017, but I’ll be happy to let Mason grow for another couple years before putting him in the same category as Mankins.